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Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct is a 2006 graphic novel that collects the last arc in the Top 10 series. This comic is set in a futuristic but dangerous and grime infested city called Neopolis which was built by captured Nazi scientists at the end of the war as a place where those with super powers ("science heroes") and robots, ghosts, gods and monsters could all live together away from ordinary people. Ordinary people are not too keen on living next door to monsters or super powered people for understandable reasons. So the inhabitants of Neopolis are outcasts and outsiders and the Top 10 stories have plenty of scope to address themes of prejudice and fear of those that are different. Robots in particular seem to bear the brunt of a lot of fear and prejudice in this strange city. As everyone in Neopolis seems to have unique and special powers it requires a very unusual police force to keep order in the city and that task often falls on Precinct 10 where all of the officers have uncanny powers or unique talents themselves. The comic was created by Alan Moore as a sort of Watchmen meets Hill Street Blues and he was responsible for writing two excellent volumes and two equally good spin-offs (Smax and The Forty-Niners) with fantastic art supplied by Gene Ha.
Unfortunately, Alan Moore, as ever, fell out with the company who produce this series and they decided to continue without him (possibly to spite Moore as when he falls out with a company he doesn't do it in a half-hearted way). So Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct has nothing to do with Alan Moore and however hard you might try you can't replicate the invention and sensibility he brings to a comic. The art by Jerry Ordway is much less of a problem and well up to par but the story by Paul Di Filippo leaves something to be desired and the dialogue and characters are both unavoidably diminished by the absence of the man who created this series in the first place. The story is set five years from the events of the last comic to feature any of the Top 10 characters. The police officers of Precinct 10 are having their annual "labor day" picnic when a large object in the sky known as the Hell Ditch Pilgrim appears. This object appears above a supernatural crevice and is the somewhat clumsy McGuffin that drives the story here.
I should point out that the premise of Top 10 is that it takes place on one of what are many alternative Earths and the all of the alternative versions of Neopolis are ultimately accountable to a central police body on Earth Fifty-Four known as Grand Central. The Neopolis of our world is Precinct Ten in this interdimensional police arrangement and so known by the officers who work there as Top 10. Anyway, the Precinct's resident robot policeman Joe Pi (he looks like a Transformer and has a good sense of humour for a robot) is assigned to investigate a new drug that has been sweeping through the city and being used by the assorted robots who reside in Neopolis. The drug seems to have a connection to the Hell Ditch Pilgrim and this investigation will uncover a dark secret that goes beyond the mortal realms of Earth. Meanwhile, the officers at Top 10 have to deal with a most unexpected and unwelcome turn of events when their beloved Captain Traynor is sacked by the Mayor and replaced by an irritating blowhard called Sean Cindercott. Cindercott places increasingly draconian restrictions on the officers at the station (longer hours, less money, infringements on their civil rights, the focus on tackling subversive elements and terrorists at the exclusion of street level crime) and also demands that they sign an oath of loyalty to him and the city.
With our eccentric band of police heroes threatening resignation and a supernatural avatar looming (quite literally) over the city, things look rather bleak for Neopolis. While this is not as awful as some of the reviews it got on publication would suggest the magic has definitely gone from this comic and the loss of Moore is keenly felt. The story is rather vague and something of a mess. It's like one of those ridiculous plots they used to dredge up in Star Trek and then have conviently solved right at the end in somewhat unconvincing fashion and they do the same here. In the first two volumes Moore weaved a labyrinthine plot and then - in his usual style - moved it all towards a climx where everything seemed to fall together and there were big revelations. This volume just sort of fizzles out in the end and I was never that engaged by the avatar and the ramifications involving subspace and dark energy etc. It did rather seem to me at times that they were just making this up as they went along for the sake of getting another Top 10 series out there and cashing in on the work Alan Moore had done to establish this comic. Moore's amusing dialogue is as a greater loss as his Rubik's cube storylines but the art is good though.
Neopolis is still like Fritz Lang meets Blade Runner meets a German expressionistic film nightmare. A big claustrophobic neon concrete jungle where you literally never know who you will meet around the next corner. It might even be Tintin as Di Filippo continues Moore's penchant for famous cameos. While the art is fine the nuances and bonkers invention and skill of Alan Moore are attributes that Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct was never likely to successfully mimic without him. You get the impression here that the writer was intent to just follow the formula as much as possible and make it feel like the previous volumes as much as he could. What is missing is the sharpness of Moore. All the things you would expect from a Top 10 book are present. Weird characters, a strange threat, cover-ups, corruption, prejudice. The difference is that the characters are not as vivid and quotable this time around and so feel less memorable and interesting. A couple have far too little to do for my liking - especially Jeff Smax, a surly large blue alien who fires energy blasts from his chest. Smax was teamed with Robyn Slinger - a young woman known as "Toybox" for her collection of General Jumbo style toy helicopters and soldiers - in the first issue and although he hates everything and is a grump it was touching the way that Moore developed a believable friendship between the mismatched pair.
Smax was one of the funniest characters (in deadpan fashion) in the first two volumes but here he is thrust into the background far too much. Slinger is given a pivotal role in the story but other characters too like Sergeant Caesar (a talking Doberman dog who wears a steel exoskeleton) feel less essential in the hands of the new writer. One of the most interesting characters in Moore's Top 10 was Girl One, a bio-engineered back-flipping woman with metallic and fluorescent pigments on her skin that make it look like she is wearing clothes (when actually she isn't). Girl One was killed off by Moore but they bring her back here as "Girl 54" and then do absolutely nothing with the character at all. It doesn't really make any sense. There is a heavy-handed political subtext too that was very clunky. The new charter at Top 10 and the knuckleheaded Mayor and Captain all very George W Bush and war on terror. Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct is readable and completists will probably want to get hold of a copy but it does suffer badly in comparison to the work Alan Moore had already done on this series. This runs to about 90 pages (feels a bit of a skimpy read) and at the time of writing will cost you about £10.